Friday, July 22, 2011

Books: U is for Undertow

U is for Undertow
by Sue Grafton
Copyright 2009
Read by Judy Kaye

This is the latest in the alphabet series by Sue Grafton, which feature Kinsey Millhone. The next in the series, V is for Vengence, is due out this November.

I think I have heard most of these books. This is a series I enjoy in the car. Judy Kaye has read all of them that I have heard, and she does a very nice job. The reader does make a huge difference when listening to a book.

The year is 1988, and Kinsey is 38. I like that Grafton has kept her heroine in the past - however, I wonder how tough it is to keep things like cell phones and email from showing up. We're over 20 years out from the year of this novel, and the author does a great job of keeping it real. On top of that, the book jumps back and forth in time, traveling to the 1960s.

The mystery begins when Michael Sutton comes to Kinsey for help. He has a memory from when he was six years old that troubles him. He remembers running across two "pirates" burying treasure in a nearby ravine in 1967. This was about the time a young girl was kidnapped, fated to never return. He believes now that he ran across the kidnappers burying the body.

Kinsey agrees to look into the matter, and things move on from there. The author bounces back from Kinsey's point of view to the point of view of different players in the crime, giving us short glimpses of all of these folks. It doesn't take long to figure out who the kidnappers are, but Grafton is such a master storyteller that it doesn't matter. You have to listen to the end to see how Kinsey figures it out.

The only thing I did not really care for was the "false memory syndrome" in the book. Michael's sister, a newspaper reporter, shows up in the story to tell Kinsey that her brother was coerced by a therapist into making accusations against their parents. He later recanted and admitted the accusations were untrue, though he thought they were true at the time.

I tend to find it distasteful when mental health issues are tossed in as plot movers. It feels like it denigrates people with very real problems who need our help and sympathy, not our disdain. But I digress, and while this became central to the plot, the politics of the issue of mental health treatment was not a main course and it was handled with a light hand.

Ultimately, the indictment against Michael means that now his entire story is suspect, and Kinsey almost drops the matter. Fortunately, her dear ol' friend Henry comes up with a different angle, and she doesn't let it go. She also takes up for Michael when his family comes calling again in yet another effort to discredit him, and I give the author many thumbs up for that.

I have always liked Kinsey as a character. She is a loner, quiet, and not forceful, yet she always manages to solve the case and move things forward. I am wondering, as the series heads down towards the inevitable "Z," if Grafton will retire her and move on to something else?

If you like mysteries, pick up a Grafton book. You won't be disappointed.


  1. I haven't read any of these... guess I'm 20+ behind! Do you think one should start in the front of the alphabet or does it matter?

  2. I love Sue Grafton's books! I have been a fan for years, but I need to catch up. I think I stopped around "Q". I just have so much to read I haven't gotten to the rest. Kinsey is a great character.

    Being a mental health therapist, I agree with you about adding mental health issues in as plot movers. My issue with it is the inaccuracy. Both movies and books twist around illnesses and therapy to fit the plot. It gives the wrong impression to the general public, often distorting mental health issues and treatment in a bad way. It's very irritating!


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